Whispers

Alex and her sister, Susan, discover a new urban legend.

Horror. Rated PG. Word Count: 3,500.
Originally Published on AlexLKerr.com on 12-June-2013.

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Whispers
by Alex L. Kerr

I was ten, playing around outside at the local park with my friend when my older sibling, Susan, started telling us urban legends. She hung out with us from time to time: she was thirteen and had made friends with Jim, Rob's older brother. Rob and I were best friends.
I didn't know they were urban legends. Jim got into the conversation as soon as Susan started and I learned about Bloody Mary, Candyman, the Hook Man, finger-licking serial killers, and doomed teenaged baby-sitters all in one go. Despite the fact that Susan and Jim swore up and down that they were all true stories (citing as evidence distant relatives or family friends), I still detected that glint of amusement in their eyes: they were having fun sending shivers down our spines and I tried my damnedest to act all cool and nonchalant about it.
That ruse lasted for as far as a ten-year old could throw because, towards the end, Jim tapped my sister on the shoulder to speak to her directly.
"Hey you hear about uh... about the whisperers?" He asked in an undertone. Susan leaned back on the picnic table and shook her head, a smile playing on her lips.
"No, what?" She whispered back. At that, Robby and I piped up.
"What're the whisperers?! Jim!" We chimed. Jim rolled his eyes and gestured for us to keep it down. His voice was low when he turned back to Susan.
"You haven't heard of that? It's the one going around right now..." He murmured. Susan scrutinized his serious expression, eventually squinting with confusion and shook her head.
"No, really, I haven't heard about it."
"You're friends with Cara though, right?"
Susan shrugged.
"Cara was the last person I heard that got a call," he informed.
"Okay so tell us what it is," Susan offered, trying to sound casual but I could tell she was intrigued. This wasn't going to be a story where the older kids got to lord over their little siblings. This was... kind of real, now.
"Yeah what happened to Cara?" I asked, trying to sound like I knew Cara and felt mature concern for her.
"Okay okay," Jim started, pushing his palms out and readying himself for the story. "So basically like... a month ago, Jack O'Neill - Susan, you know Jack?"
"Yeah he's really good at baseball, right?"
"Yeah. Yeah so he got the first call from the whisperers when he was at home alone."
"What happened?" Robby asked. Jim turned to look at his brother.
"What do you mean? Nothing... happened. It was just a freaky call."
"Why?" Susan prompted.
"Well they're called 'whisperers' because they just... whisper into the phone."
"Just like..." Susan trailed off as Jim started doing an impression of soft, scratchy, ongoing whispers. He started smiling when he glanced to look at Robby and my less-than-happy faces.
"So," Susan cut him off. She'd been put off by the sound too. "So they don't actually say anything? They just whisper?"
"Yeah, like... really close to the receiver. Nobody can figure out what they're saying," he said, his tone inferring that there was something mysterious and sinister going on.
Jim let his words hang there and we all just sat there, imagining picking up the phone and hearing a mindless - yet aware and live - voice whispering nonsense into the line.
"Anyway," Jim  announced loudly and I tried not to flinch, "It's not that big of a deal. No one's been hurt or anything. Nothing but the weird phone calls. But it is really creepy that so many of us in our class," Jim gestured between himself and Susan, "are getting them."
I looked to my sister, frowning with genuine worry: was she on the whisperers' list? Was she going to get a call? What did it mean? Did it mark you somehow - mark you for something bad?
Now that I knew my sister was in this, it felt threatening and really scary.
My sister's eyes were hooded in thought until she looked up at me. I saw the uncertainty in her eyes before she blinked and gave a cocky smile.
"Dude, whatever. I'm sure it's just a clique in our class calling people and freaking them out. Pranks, nothing more," she added reassuringly, looking at me. I nodded.
Jim shrugged.
"Okay," he drew the word out skeptically, "but I've been checking caller ID ever since I heard about them."
Susan huffed and rolled her eyes.
"Please, 'unknown caller,' is usually, like, my mom. There are too many unregistered phone numbers right now."
Jim turned to her and I could barely hear his whisper.
"Yeah. I still don't answer them," he said, his voice firm and sincere. A moment passed as Susan just stared at him. She swallowed and nodded back nervously.
"Okay," she said, forcing a lighthearted tone that I could see right through.
"Jim what time is it? I'm hungry," Robby said distractedly, getting up from the bench and stretching. It was nearing dusk and the playground was pretty much deserted. Jim breathed a sigh and looked at his watch.
"Oh yeah it's like five thirty. We'll see you later, yeah?" Jim asked as he hopped off the picnic table and followed his little brother, walking backwards to still keep Susan and me in sight.
"Yeah you bet! Bye!" Susan and I waved.
"Later!" Jim called back easily, turning around and jogging up to his little brother as they headed home.
I was smiling when I turned back to Susan, but the grin fell when I saw her face.
"What?" I asked. She looked really... angry. She shook her head in annoyance.
"Nothing. Jim was just being an asshole."
"Really?!" I asked, leaning forward with interest. I mean, I was only ten years old: I really wanted to know what qualified to be an asshole. "Why? What'd he do?" I asked.
"He just... wanted to scare me," she replied. My face scrunched up in confusion.
"But... isn't that... what you were doing with Jim to me and Robby?" I asked.
"That's different," she dismissed, waving her hand. I shrugged, not really knowing why there was a difference but letting it go anyway.
"Should we go home?"
Susan nodded lazily, looking off into the distance.
"Yeah," she murmured, getting up from the table slowly. I came around in step with her as we made our way back home.

~~~

I hated answering the phone. I still hate it to this day, but not as much as I did when I was ten. I had to psyche myself up and grab the piece of paper that had my mom's scribbled script: "Receiving a call: Hello? May I ask who's calling? Yes, so-and-so is here, please hold on OR So-and-so is not here right now, may I take a message? Placing a call: Hi, this is Alex Kaye. May I please speak to so-and-so?"
You'd think that script was pretty straight forward but even with it, I'm pretty sure I accidentally said, "so and so," a few times (which confused and befuddled parents and my sisters' friends alike). Also, I was terrified about what to say if the person I was calling wasn't there and I needed to create a, "message," off the top of my head to leave for them.
Needless to say, I was an anxious child when it came to the telephone. Lucky for me, my mom worked at home and I was the youngest of three so it was pretty rare that I'd have to answer it.
That's why it was a whole month later that Susan and I were the only ones in the house. My eldest sister, Jane, was at a slumber party (or at least, that's what everyone told me when I was ten) and our parents were having a night out. I didn't have anything lined up for my Friday night (again, I was ten) and Susan had elected to stay with me for the night (hopefully because I was a cool ten year old).
We played Mouse Trap while watching Power Rangers: The Movie (my favorite at the time). It was nearing six-thirty when the phone rang out from down the hall. Susan sighed and got up, sore from her cross-legged position on the floor in the TV room.
"S'probably Mums," Susan groaned as she started jogging down the hall to get to it in time.
"Hey if it's Mama ask her when she and Daddy's coming home!" I shouted after her.
"Yeah!" Susan yelled back as she vanished from view. I stayed sitting, idly watching Ivan Ooze scheme onscreen as I waited. I plucked the carpet free of random threads around me and centered the pieces on their squares on the board game.
"-not FUNNY!" I suddenly heard coming from down the hallway. I swiveled around, looking in Susan's direction.
"I'm hanging up, you asshole! Don't call this number again!" I heard Susan shout and the sharp clang of the receiver as she hung up.
"Susan!" I called, starting to get up just as she came out into view in the hallway. "Susan, what happened? Who was it?" I asked urgently, worried.
Susan stomped her way towards me, fuming, but as she came out into the TV room I could see her face was pale, her hands shaky.
"Nothing. It was nothing, Alex. C'mon," she said angrily, stepping over the board and accidentally knocking down the Mouse Trap gadgets. She was pretty jumpy for "nothing."
"Shit," she whispered vehemently. "Sorry... Sorry..." She trailed off softly, bending down to start fixing the contraptions.
"It's okay," I say quietly. "Are you okay?" I ask, noticing her hands are so shaky that she's having difficulty with the setup.
"Yeah yeah I'm fine. S'just..." She stopped, crouched over the board game, thinking.
"What happened?" I prompted. She shook her head.
"S'just Jim. Trying to freak me out," she sighed, then reached out again to help with the board. I sat back down. I had forgotten about the whisperers so I didn't understand how he was scaring her, but at any rate he was being mean and that's all I needed to know. I turned the volume down on the TV set and turned back to my sister.
"How was he freaking you out?"
Susan looked at me and bit her lip. She looked down at the board and ticked her head to the side like what she was about to say was nothing.
"The whisperers thing," she muttered.
"What?"
"The story Jim told? Remember?"
"Oh...Oh," I said, fear seeping in as realization dawned.
"The..." I gulped, "That was... that call was the whisperers?" I clarified tentatively.
"Yeah," Susan said, exasperated, then looked up. "Alex don't worry - it's just a stupid thing Jim came up with."
"How do you know? Did you talk to the other people that said they'd gotten calls and stuff?" I asked, hoping she had.
A shadow of doubt crossed her face but it passed as fast as it came.
"Yeah. It didn't happen," she lied. I knew she was lying. I gave her a look that said as much and she rolled her eyes.
"Al, even if they had gotten those calls, it's still Jim who's making them. He's the only one spreading the stupid rumor around," she explained. The pit in my stomach started to dissolve with that reasoning: if it was just Jim pranking people - and Susan seemed really sure on that - then it really wasn't anything to worry about.
I bit my lip, thinking, and finally relented to Susan's judgment.
"Okay," I said, "So... then... what is wrong with that guy? Why would he try to freak you out?" I asked, willing to get into it.
"I don't even know. I think he likes me," Susan replied, starting to calm down.
"What?! If he likes you, why would he try to scare you?!" I asked, baffled.
"I know! I don't even know!" Susan actually laughed.
At that, I relaxed. If she could laugh about it then everything was fine.
"Sometimes guys do stupid things to get attention," Susan said, smiling.
"Sheesh, no kidding," I said, using my mom's tone with the same turn of phrase. We set up the game together and Susan took a minute to bring out a couple more cokes and a bag of Twizzlers.
Time passed: we switched the movie to A League of Their Own (one of Susan's favorites) and after finishing the game (she won), we cleaned the board and pieces up and settled on the couch. Just as Dotty got accepted to try out for the league, the phone rang again. I turned and looked at Susan, eyes wide with trepidation but Susan, feeling the tension radiating from me, refused to acknowledge me. Her jaw clenched and I felt her movements turn sharp and determined as she got up and jogged down the hallway.
This time, I immediately grabbed the remote and turned the volume down to listen.
"Hello?" Susan paused for a brief second. "Damn it, Jim, stop it! If you don't stop calling me with this bullshit, I swear I'm going to tell my parents and they're going to call your parents and you're going to be in so-"
The door bell to our house went off, drowning my sister's furious tone and jerking me away from looking in her direction down the hallway. For a second, everything was quiet. My heart was racing as I twisted around towards the front door. I leaned forward, straining from my seat on the couch to see through the frosted windows.
I could make out a dark figure moving back and forth and I heard its soft pacing footsteps. I battled with whether or not this was a stranger. If it was someone we knew, as the seconds ticked by, the silence was getting increasingly disturbing: someone we knew would call out - would use their voices as a sign that they were someone we knew. But this person wasn't speaking. He was just pacing after having hit the door bell just once.
Susan had stopped her threats over the phone and moved into the hallway to catch sight of me. I was gaping at the front door, frozen, hoping to god that the person would call out and it'd be one of our neighbors checking up on us or something.
"Tsk! Alex!" Susan said sharply, snapping her fingers. She startled me and I turned to look at her. She was still down the hall, holding the phone near her waist, the curly cord keeping her hostage. "Who is it?" Susan stage-whispered at me. I looked at the front door, the figure pacing, and then back at her. I shook my head spastically.
"I don't know," I whispered back, my voice trembling with fear.
The pacing grew louder, almost like he heard me.  The heavier steps paced faster too as if it was getting impatient. My heart rocketed and it was like I could hear my own blood pumping. I saw Susan's eyes shift to the direction of the noise, her expression wary. I saw her cringe, almost like she was in pain, before slamming the phone down.
"Yeah?! Who is it?!" she called out loudly, her voice tearing through the house. In hindsight, she was probably overcompensating due to her own anxiety but at the time she sounded pretty powerful and really cool.
"Suze - Suze!" I called out after her just as she passed me to get to the front foyer. I scrambled after her, nearly falling out of the couch.
"Hello?! Hellooo?!" Susan yelled at the door. I rushed in behind her and stopped dead. It didn't look like anyone was there; the sounds of footsteps that I'd heard were gone; no shape or figure standing outside.
Susan turned to me, her eyes drilling into mine.
"Did you see anyone?"
"No... Yeah... I..." I stammered, unable to figure out how the stranger could've gotten off our porch so fast. At the very least I would've heard the wooden stairs creaking as they were leaving...
"I... I swear... I swear someone was right here - right there outside the door, Susan, I swear," I repeated, my voice getting shaky as the ramifications of what had just happened started to sink in.
"Did they leave? Did you hear-?"
I shook my head frantically.
"N-no..."
Suddenly a terrifying thought occurred to me and I backed up instinctively as chills ran down my spine.
"Susan, Susan what if he's still on the porch hiding?! What if he stopped walking around and he's just on the outside side of the door thing - like...like..." I started hyperventilating, continuing to back away from the door.
"Hey-hey, chill out, chill," Susan said, but she had started backing up with me. "I'm sure it's nothing. Just a prank. Even if it wasn't, there's locks on the doors - he can't get in," she whispered. I nodded, still wrapped in my own horror show of an imagination when Susan grabbed my elbow and pulled. "C'mon!" she said harshly, tugging me around and leading a run to the back of the house where the phone was.
When we got there, Susan grabbed the receiver and dialed. Her hands were shaking more heavily now that she was actually taking action on what was happening. She was making it real. She tried to breathe evenly but let out a gasp of relief when the other line picked up.
"Mums? Hey when are you getting back because we think something... something's happening..." Her voice trembled over the phone and she sounded really young and I realized how little we were. Both of us. I started jumping up and down, the adrenaline coursing through me urging me to move or do something.
"Well, um, we got these creepy phone calls and then someone rang our door bell and Alex said she saw a guy outside but they're not there anymore and we don't know where the guy is-"
Mom interrupted Susan with such intensity, such fierce clarity that I could hear it pierce through the receiver: "Susan, get into Alex's room and lock the doors behind you RIGHT NOW."
Our mom's last two words made us jump. Susan hung up immediately and grabbed my arm. We flew past the kitchen into our parents' room, Susan slamming the door shut at the same time I could've sworn I heard the front door slam open. I gasped, completely unable to make a full-fledged scream, and Susan must have heard it too because I heard a small sob of desperation as she reached for the key that was already settled into the hole of the door's knob.
"Oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god," she cried, fiddling the key with numb, panicked fingers to turn it. I heard a foreign stomp hit the hardwood floor in the front foyer. He was inside.
"Suze! Hurry!" I said weakly, shivering with terror as I heard a couple more heavy footsteps. As the key swiveled shut, Susan pulled it out of the hole with one swift jerk. She nearly lost her footing and swore quietly as she barreled backwards. She righted herself as she grabbed onto me and pushed me beyond our parents' room and into my room.
"On the bed," she gasped quietly, shoving me at my bed as she closed the door. She winced as she worked the door gently so it wouldn't make a noise and crouched to twist the key in the lock. Finished with it, she pulled the key out and rushed over to jump on the bed with me. She wrapped her arm around my chest and pulled as we both scrambled up against the bed's corner - the corner of the room that took us out of the lock hole's line of sight.
Susan hugged me tightly as we sat there huddled up against wood-paneled walls on top of my Pink Ranger-themed bedspread. We gasped our exhales and held our breaths, listening to the intruder's weighted foot-falls around our house. I started crying. Susan hushed me frantically, pulling the comforter up to cover us both.
I don't know how long we sat and listened. It felt like an eternity, being held prisoners in my room, hearing sounds from outside but inside our own house.
Eventually the sounds of the footsteps quieted and my heart beat started to steady. I looked around in shock and clipped off a sob when my sister hugged me tighter. I leaned forward onto her arm and stared: my stuffed animals looked ghoulish in the blue-tinged moonlight streaming in from the windows; the toys and books scattered on the floor cast creepy shadows. Nothing felt safe anymore.
Susan remained quiet, her own form of shock starting to penetrate. She just kept still and her hold on me never loosened until we started hearing the sirens.
"Thank god," she breathed.
"Is that - are those-?" I whispered. Susan squirmed around behind me and lifted her hand up to pat my shoulder and left it there as comfort.
"Yeah the police are coming. We'll be safe soon. Two more minutes," she whispered back, effectively calming us both down as we waited.

Epilogue

It wasn't Jim. Jim and Robby were out of town with his parents. This was in 1996 and it was the year my township created their own neighborhood watch program. The Whisperers became major local news. People still kept getting calls, but nothing like what happened to Susan and I. Very soon even the calls tapered off.
After the break-in, our family moved out, my sisters and I had to switch schools, Susan and I had plenty of nightmares, and for some reason my parents went on a photography kick. I remember because they got this huge friggin camera that took the best pictures ever.
It wasn't until last week that my mom told us over a glass (or four) of wine (we're all of age now) that all the family photos of Susan had been stolen that night.